Muawiyah I Biography

(Founder of the Umayyad Caliphate)
Muawiyah I

Born: 602

Born In: Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Muawiyah I was the founder of the Umayyad Caliphate and also its first caliph. He and his father, Abu Sufyan, had opposed Prophet Muhammad, who was their distant Qurayshite kinsman. They captured Mecca in 630 AD after which Muawiyah became one of the Muhammad’s scribes. He reigned from 661 AD to 680 AD and his full name was Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan. Caliph Abu Bakr appointed him for the conquest of Syria. He gradually climbed the ladder until he became the governor of Syrian under Uthman. After Uthman was assassinated, he took upon himself to avenge Uthman’s death and oppose his successor, Ali. During the ‘first Muslim Civil War,’ their armies reached a stalemate in the ‘Battle of Siffin,’ and the war was settled through arbitration and Muawiyah was recognised as caliph. His ally, Amr ibn al-As, helped them conquer Egypt in 658 AD. He was known as a man of rare virtues. He was conscientious about justice and was fair to people of all sects. He was honourable towards people who possessed talent and helped them advance these talents, irrespective of their religion. He also showed great self-control toward ignorant men and generosity toward lesser beings. He was considered to be a balanced and just ruler. According to Abdullah ibn Abbas, there was no man better suited to rule than Muawiyah.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Muawiyah bin Abi-Sufyan

Died At Age: 78


Spouse/Ex-: Maysun bint Bahdal al-Kulaibi al-Nasrania

father: Abu Sufyan ibn Harb

mother: Hind bint Utbah

siblings: Utbah ibn Abi Sufyan, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan

children: Yazid I

Born Country: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian Men Male Leaders

Died on: 680

Childhood & Early Life
It is believed that Muawiyah was born in 602 AD, though many Muslim traditional sources cite his birth year as 597, 603 or 605 AD. His father, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, was a renowned Meccan merchant who had led trade expeditions to Syria. He emerged as an important leader of the Banu Abd Shams tribe of the Quraysh during the early stages of its struggle with Prophet Muhammad. His mother was also a member of the same clan.
He did not become a Muslim until Muhammad conquered Mecca and reunited his former enemies with gifts. It is believed that due to Muhammad’s efforts at reconciliation, Muawiyah was appointed a scribe in his service.
His contributions to Islamic history, however, is entirely credited to his career in Syria, which started soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
After the death of his brother, he was appointed governor of Damascus by caliph Umar. By 647 AD, he had built a strong Syrian tribal army to oppose any Byzantine attack. In the coming years, he was also able to oppose the Byzantines in several movements that occurred in the capture of Cyprus, Rhodes and the coast of Lycia in Anatolia where he defeated the Byzantine navy.
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He governed Syria for twenty long years and during his war with Ali, he managed to recruit and train a large Arab tribal army that became incredibly loyal to him. It was, therefore, natural for him to base his caliphate in Syria with Damascus as the new capital of Islam.
To win and retain the loyalty of the Arabs, he adopted two tribal institutions – the council of notables (the shura) and the delegations (the wufud). He ruled as a traditional chieftain of the Arabs. He thus used his Syrian army to protect his stronghold and also for campaigns against the Byzantines who threatened the Syrian borders.
During the civil war, he bought a truce with the Byzantines to free his army action against the caliph. However, soon after his accession to the caliphate, he reduced the payment of tribute and ordered missions against the Byzantines year after year. This helped him carry out his holy war (jihad) against non-believers. Still, the war against the Byzantines remained unsettled.
He sent expeditions to the east into the north-eastern province of Persia called Khurasan. After it was captured, it was used as a base for raids across the Oxus River into Transoxiana. To the west, he sent his governor in Egypt on an expedition under the famous conqueror Uqba ibn Nafi against North Africa, which powered through Byzantine defences as far as Algeria.
In the north, in addition to the annual raids against the Byzantine frontier holdings in Asia Minor, he also launched two attacks against Constantinople, but both proved unsuccessful. The first attack was led by his son Yazid, and the second attack was in the form of a naval movement that was fought occasionally over a period of seven years.
Because the tribal tradition and the practices of Muhammad in Medina were considered inadequate to manage a vast empire, he followed the century-old administrative processes of the Roman and Byzantine rulers. He organized the caliphal government and centralized it to exert control over territorial expansion.
He achieved this by establishing bureaus called ‘diwans’ in Damascus to effectively conduct governmental affairs. According to early Arabic sources, two diwans were credited to him – the the diwan al-khatam, or chancellery, and the barid, or postal service. Both these diwans were intended to improve communications within his empire.
He also employed Christians in his government and they held important positions. Some of these Christian families had served in the Byzantine governments but employing them ensured a policy of religious tolerance toward the community, which was present in large numbers in Syria and other conquered provinces.
All of this led the historians of later periods deny him the religious title of caliph and instead, deem him a king. It was an apt title given how he won the allegiance of the tribes for the caliphate of his son, Yazid, and also managed to establish the practice of hereditary rule in Islam.
Personal Life & Legacy
To secure his stronghold in Syria, he forged alliances with the Kalb’s ruling house, the clan of Bahdal ibn Unayf by marrying the latter’s daughter Maysun in 650 AD. He also wedded Maysun’s paternal cousin Naila bint Umara for a brief period.
He died in Damascus of an illness in April-May 680.He was buried next to the Bab al-Saghir gate of Damascus and his funeral prayers were conducted by al-Dahhak ibn Qays. His grave became an important site for visitors as late as the 10th century.
A mausoleum was also built over his grave and was open to visitors on Mondays and Thursdays.
He is considered to one of the few decisive caliphs in Islamic history. He has remained a subject of lavish praise in Arabic literature as an ideal king. He was the driving force of all Muslim efforts against the Byzantines.
He is also credited with the beautification of the Damascus city where he developed a court that rivalled that of Constantinople.
He had developed a personal library collection, ‘bayt al-hikmah. His successors contributed to his library, which included books on medicine, astrology, military science, chemistry, practical arts, applied sciences, and religion.

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